GARDENING FROM THE AUTUMN EQUINOX TO THE FIRST FROST
Autumn may be the glory days of gardening. New England skies are (mostly) sunny and bright blue. The temperature is unpredictable--it may be cooler in the mornings, but warm up to summertime heat by mid afternoon. Flowers remain intensely colorful and fall annuals offer a last chance gulch to enjoy entertaining in the garden before emptying pots and storing them for the fickle New England winter that can bring record-breaking snow fall (138" in 2015) that doesn't melt until June, or an 80 degree F. day in March that is better for heading to the beach than kite-flying.
When summer flowers get leggy and the floral blooms look tired and wispy it is time to swap out window box plants. Perk up the boxes with prolific tiny purple asters, small fall blooming sedum, tall grasses, and variegated foliage. Fall window boxes are about texture variation and plants that can tolerate significant temperature changes. Thyme and rosemary are hardy and will last through the frost, so leave those fragrant herbs in the box. As the weeks pass, it is easy to deadhead these autumn joys and exchange the waning for gourds, pumpkins, and colorful varieties of kale and cabbage.
Not nearly as glamorous as sprucing up fall window boxes, but perhaps even more important, is aerating grassy areas and adding a layer of compost to feed them in the early weeks of fall. Aerating helps the grass to grow deeper roots by creating air pockets for compost (fertilizer nutrients) to penetrate the surface and provide underground nutrition. Aerating helps control crabgrass, weeds, and pests as well as more efficient water absorption the following spring and summer. Summer 2016 was the hottest, driest season in American history. While it may take a year for lawns to recover from mandatory water bans and unprecedented heat, aerating will most certainly jump start this process.
As tempting as it may be to prune what look like brown branches and ugly twigs on trees and shrubs, DON'T DO IT! Save this activity until winter when trees are dormant, in early spring when temperatures are still cold and dry, and if you must, in spring just after the trees and shrub blooms appear. A wet climate and warm weather stress plants that are attempting to go dormant for the winter. Pruning at the wrong time of the year weakens the ability to fight off diseases and pests.
It would be impossible to think about fall gardening without considering planting the first signs that spring has arrived...daffodil, tulip, hyacinth, muscari, crocus, allium and iris bulbs. Needing a dedicated post, a bulb discussion will follow next week.
October Sunday afternoon bbq's may be the most casual, relaxed, and enjoyable time of year to entertain outdoors. Remind friends to bring a fleece and cook around a warm welcoming fire together-- pass bottles of beer, glasses of wine, and play bocce or the Viking game Kubb. Keep the cooking simple. Guests know when to go (although they may not wish to) when it becomes to frigid and dark and it's time for kids to get ready for the week ahead.
Enjoy the dazzling palette of North America's shortest season. Go apple picking in an orchard with ladders. Take pictures in a pumpkin patch. Walk holding hands with a friend or child, breathing deeply the fresh air. Get inspired by the natural beauty around you before it takes a long winter nap.
The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry's cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.
The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I'll put a trinket on. Emily Dickinson